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After All This Time, It Still Hurts

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He loved everything about Ritsu. Loved deeply, passionately, from the way Ritsu cared about everyone, even if he didn't always show it, to the way he often stayed up late studying for their next test. Ritsu was a man who was full of rough edges and sharp points. He was the very definition of hard on the outside, soft in the middle- because if you found a way to see through his shell of snide remarks, teasing and aloofness you found way to a gooey center of deep care and love. Ritsu loved his family, his brother, and he cared about all of his friends. Even Reigen, begrudgingly so. And Ritsu loved Shou. He loved Shou, and it was the sort of thing that kept him up at night wondering how and why.

Was it his persistence? If he spent enough time around the guy and pestered him constantly, bringing him out on random adventures, he'd have to grow to love him, right? But Hanazawa knew him just as long, if not a bit longer than Shou, and he didn't love Hanazawa. So scratch that.

Was it that he was physically affectionate? Shou had a hard time keeping his hands off Ritsu for whatever reason, always with an arm slung around his shoulder or waist, or clinging to his arm. He wasn't like that with anybody else. In fact, he hated touching most people, but it was different with Ritsu. Did Ritsu like all the hugging, touching, cuddling? Was that it?

Was it that he was loud, or fidgety, or he cared about animals, or the two spent a lot of time playing video games together in their youth? Maybe it was because he was a project for Ritsu to work on, though he didn't like that idea. Didn't like the idea of Ritsu seeing him as a charity case, some dumb ADHD kid with a shit dad and a boatload of trauma to work through. Besides, Ritsu wasn't trying to change Shou. Sure, he might get embarrassed when Shou got to be too much around other people, but he wasn't trying to change him, so that idea's out.

Honestly, it was a goddamn mystery. How in the world a guy like Ritsu could be in love with an ambitious idiot like Shou is beyond him. And yet, he did love Shou, and so he decided to stop looking a gift horse in the mouth and just accept this good thing that was coming to him and hope he didn't mess it up like he did everything else.

Even if it was terrifying, the way Ritsu pulled him close and kissed his neck, grinding up against him on the shared bed in their apartment. Even if he didn't quite feel comfortable, or all the way there, or like his brain was just a little to the left while Ritsu slid off his shirt and bent down to start kissing at his chest. Even if everything suddenly felt wrong, wrong, wrong when Ritsu pushed him down against the bed and started kissing down his stomach.

Ritsu paused for a moment, and then sat up, looking down at Shou with a quizzical and concerned stare. "Are you okay? You're shaking?"

"What?" Asked Shou, and he felt like his brain was underwater. "I'm shaking?" He lifted his hand up to his face, and sure enough, Ritsu was right. He was shaking like a leaf.

Now it was alarm that was present on Ritsu's face as he reached out to help Shou sit up. Except where his touch usually felt warm and pleasant, now felt like it was on fire and stabbing him. "Hey, hey, look at me Shou. Are you okay?"

"I don't-" Shou froze, panic shooting through his body and seizing him as he shook even harder. "I-I don't know what's wrong with me." His breathing was frantic and uneven, his brain screaming that something was terribly wrong and it felt like he couldn't breath, like he was dying. He kept flitting in and out of invisibility and oh shit is he having a panic attack?

"Shou- Shou-" Ritsu was fading away, back away, and suddenly he was at Claw's Awakening Lab.

"You're a bad, dirty little girl, aren't you?" Sneered a man in a labcoat down at Shou.

"No, I'm a boy. I decided that a long time ago." Replied Shou indignantly, crossing his arms over his chest indignantly.

"Doesn't matter what you think. Not now, anyway. Not to me. All that matters-" The man was tall, and slimy, and large. "Is that you're mine now. You're gonna have all kinds of nasty scares after the Awakening Lab experience, after all. Better someone gets you when you're young."

Hands were all over him, touching his nude body, and he was so young he was just a kid, what was he supposed to do? What was happening? Why him? He shivered at the cold and let it happen. He didn't know what was happening, or why, didn't know that he could say no. So he just let it happen, quietly, listening as the doctor or scientist or whoever said all kinds of gross and dirty things to him. Then it was time for the awakening labs.

"Breathe. Breathe, babe, breathe with me. You're not back there, you're safe." It was Ritsu. That's right, Ritsu was here, he didn't know Ritsu back then so of course he was safe. He was an adult now, not a helpless little kid anymore.

Shou did his best to match his breathing to Ritsu's, deep, steady breaths, and he felt himself begin to calm down. He reached up, wiping at his eyes only to find they came away wet. He had been crying.

"That's it. That's it, you're okay, I promise you." Ritsu said, reaching up to wipe and kiss away the tears from Shou's face. "Are- Do you wanna tell me what happened?"

Shou sighed, closing his eyes and blinking away the excess tears before looking back at Ritsu. "Same thing that always happens. Flashback or whatever. Got molested by some asshole at Claw when I was young. That's what it was this time, anyway."

Ritsu looked both sadden and guilt-ridden as he held Shou's hand tightly in his own. "Did I- Did I cause it?"

Shou went wide-eyed. "What? No! No, I- I had my own shit going on, today, I guess. I just-" He took a deep breath, then looked away. "Why do you... Love me, Ritsu? How? How in the world did a guy like me get so lucky as to have a guy like you..."

"Shou." Ritsu sounded firm, almost angry as he squeezed Shou's hand. "Don't think about yourself like that. I love you because you're smart. You were smart enough to figure out what your dad was doing, break away from him and form your own rebellion to take him down. You're cunning as hell. I love you because you care. A lot, Shou. You have so much empathy- empathy for others and for animals and it was that empathy that led you to make your own path in the first place. You're funny, so funny Shou, and you're creative. You can think up the most crazy solutions to problems that I could never even dream of. You're ambitious, when you have a goal that you set your heart to you'll do anything to achieve it. You're amazing, Shou, I love you."

Shou's heart seized at Ritsu's wall of praise and kind words, punctuated by a soft kiss to the cheek. It was almost enough to make him start crying again. Instead, he said, "I-I love you too. Wanna get a pizza and play some smash? I'm starving here, bro. Panic attack'll do that to ya."

Ritsu laughed before nodding along. "Yeah. Let's do that."